Hammer Toe can affect any of the toes on the foot except the big toe, though the most common toe to suffer is the second one. While the smallest toe can be affected, the condition causes the toe to twist out to the side rather than to curl forward. Hammertoe is not very discriminating; it may appear on all four toes of the foot or on only one toe, depending on the cause.
A common cause of hammertoe and mallet toe is wearing improper footwear - shoes that are too tight in the toe box, or high-heel shoes. Wearing shoes of either type can push your toes forward, crowding one or more of them into a space that's not large enough to allow your toes to lie flat. Hammertoe and mallet toe deformities can also be inherited and may occur despite wearing appropriate footwear. The result is a toe that bends upward in the middle and then curls down in a hammer-like or claw-like shape. Your shoes can rub against the raised portion of the toe or toes, causing painful corns or calluses. The bottom of the affected toe can press down, creating the mallet-like appearance of mallet toe. At first, a hammertoe or mallet toe may maintain its flexibility and lie flat when you're not wearing crowded footwear. But eventually, the tendons of the toe may contract and tighten, causing your toe to become permanently stiff.
Well-developed hammertoes are distinctive due to the abnormal bent shape of the toe. However, there are many other common symptoms. Some symptoms may be present before the toe becomes overly bent or fixed in the contracted position. Often, before the toe becomes permanently contracted, there will be pain or irritation over the top of the toe, particularly over the joint. The symptoms are pronounced while wearing shoes due to the top of the toe rubbing against the upper portion of the shoe. Often, there is a significant amount of friction between the toe and the shoe or between the toe and the toes on either side of it. The corns may be soft or hard, depending on their location and age. The affected toe may also appear red with irritated skin. In more severe cases, blisters or open sores may form. Those with diabetes should take extra care if they develop any of these symptoms, as they could lead to further complications.
Hammer toes may be easily detected through observation. The malformation of the person's toes begin as mild distortions, yet may worsen over time - especially if the factors causing the hammer toes are not eased or removed. If the condition is paid attention to early enough, the person's toes may not be permanently damaged and may be treated without having to receive surgical intervention. If the person's toes remain untreated for too long, however the muscles within the toes might stiffen even more and will require invasive procedures to correct the deformity.
Non Surgical Treatment
Conservative treatment is the first choice, often starting with a change of shoes to ones that have soft, larger toe spaces. Toe exercises may be prescribed to stretch and strengthen the toe muscles. Over-the-counter straps, cushions or non-medicated corn pads may be recommended to help relieve your symptoms.
If these non-invasive treatments don?t work, or if the joint is rigid, a doctor?s only recourse may be to perform surgery. During the surgery, the doctor makes an incision and cuts the tendon to release it or moves the tendon away from or around the joint. Sometimes part of the joint needs to be removed or the joint needs to be fused. Each surgery is different in terms of what is needed to treat the hammertoe. Normally after any foot surgery, patients use a surgical shoe for four to six weeks, but often the recovery from hammertoe surgery is more rapid than that. An unfortunate reality is that hammertoe can actually return even after surgery if a patient continues to make choices that will aggravate the situation. Though doctors usually explain pretty clearly what needs to be done to avoid this.
The easiest way to avoid hammertoe is to wear shoes that fit properly. Orthopaedic surgeons and podiatrists recommend shoes that have roomy toe boxes, which give the toes plenty of space to flex. Shoes that fit well should also cushion the arch in the middle of the foot. This helps to distribute the weight of the body evenly across the bones and joints of the foot. The size and shape of a foot can change with age, and many people inadvertently wear the wrong size shoe. Podiatrists recommend having your feet measured regularly to ensure that your shoes fit properly.